Most modern historians have made three basic assumptions about the religious views of our nation's first president: he was a deist; he was only a marginal Christian who kept up appearances but had no depth of conviction; and he believed only in an impersonal force or destiny that he called "Providence." Michael Novak, the well-known conservative thinker and author of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, teams up with his daughter Jana to attempt to debunk all three of these notions about Washington's religious views. Written at the specific request of Mount Vernon and with the assistance of their archives, this book is carefully researched. It is most persuasive when the Novaks show that despite his natural reserve, a depth of religious feeling ran through Washington's public and private speeches and correspondence, disproving the portrait of a tepid, perfunctory Anglicanism. However, they don't succeed as well in disproving Washington's deist sensibility; the Novaks adopt the modern assumption that being a Christian and being a deist were mutually exclusive—a conclusion that few in the late 18th century would have shared. At times, the Novaks' starry-eyed admiration of the man pushes this book over the bounds of biography into hagiography. (Mar. 6)
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